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Grant not living in the past

Matt Lozar | Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Ryan Grant went from being the seventh back in Notre Dame history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season on a 10-3 Notre Dame team to standing in the shadows of Julius Jones and see the Irish fall to 5-7.

It’s not something he wants to remember anytime soon.

“I didn’t play as well as I’d like to, but that’s in the past,” Grant said. “We have to look forward and get things together so we can be the best team we can be.”

Grant started 2003 as the starter, and the Irish looked to have a two-back system of Grant and Jones to punish opposing defenses for 60 minutes.

But Grant wasn’t able to build off that success from 2002, and Jones became the feature back for the Irish. Despite that role reversal, Grant and Jones didn’t have any tension between them.

In fact, the duo became closer in 2003 than they did in 2001 when Grant was a heralded freshman from Nyack, N.Y. and Jones struggled as a junior with the Irish.

“I think we both learned a lot from each other bouncing things off each other. He did a great job last year and was a great back,” Grant said. “I was glad to be able to learn from him and be around him. … I was glad to be able to play with him, and I think he was glad to play with me.”

Grant learned from watching Jones what he needed to do to become the back fans, the coaching staff and Grant know he can become. He has to be patient to let the offensive line open holes, but once those holes open, the running back has to hit the hole at top speed.

That’s something he didn’t do last season. Grant would either plunge straight into the offensive line before the hole developed or not be aggressive enough to burst through the hole once it opened.

Improving that decision-making was a major goal in the winter and is a focus this spring.

“The main thing was his acceleration after the cut,” Notre Dame running backs coach Buzz Preston said. “We had to get in [during the off-season] and look at the film. You can look at the things they did well and didn’t do well. It gives them a chance to get a little more mentally sharp.”

In the hole, Grant knows he has to break that first tackle and pick up the extra yards to maintain drives. Grant worked hard in the off-season doing drills to increase his agility, and ran track to increase his speed.

But not only are the coaches looking to Grant to improve his production, but also to become a leader for the 2004 team. The dedication Grant has shown since the end of the 2003 season is an indication he’s ready to accept that role as one of the few seniors on the offense.

I think with Ryan being a senior, with two years of experience, you are going to ask and demand [a lot] out of a young man like that,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. “You really ask him to be a leader by example both on and off the field, which I think Ryan has done a really good job in the off-season. He is trying extremely hard to be a leader on the field.”

Grant can show that leadership on the field by bouncing back from a disappointing 2003 season and taking his game to a level beyond what he showed in 2002.

With an entire offense that has gained invaluable experience last year, the opportunity is there for Grant not to watch from the sidelines and have a year like Jones.

“In spring ball everyone is going to make mistakes, but we are going to grow and get better as spring ball goes on,” Grant said. “What we are just looking after is for guys to get after it.”